More info on the new class of three planned Coast Guard Polar Security Cutters has bubbled up.
In short, they will be big boys, at 460-feet long and 33,000-tons. For reference, the Coast Guard’s current 50-year-old icebreaker, USCGC Polar Star (WAGB-10), is 399-feet long and weighs in at comparatively paltry 13,800-tons.
However, the Polar Sea is a bruiser, packing 75,000 shaft horsepower in her CODAG plant. This allows her to crush up to 21 feet of ice by backing and ramming and cruise through 6-feet of pack at a continuous 3 knots. According to a statement released this week, the new PSC’s will have 42,500 shp but will still meet an 8-foot mark on ice-busting.
Of note, the Coast Guard’s single medium icebreaker, the 11,000-ton Healy can crack ice up to 10 feet thick.
More from VTH in Moss Point:
As you can see, the design is based on Finnish and German tech that is being used on the (under construction) German research breaker Polarstern II, which is about the same size.
The plan for Polarstern II is a good starting point as that ship includes:
-Maximum 130 persons on board.
-44 person crew living in single and double rooms.
-Normal cruises up to 60 scientists.
-Safety equipment (lifeboats) on each side 100%.
-80 places for 20” Containers (laboratories and storage).
-Seakeeping stabilizer suitable for the transit cruises and station operation.
-Helicopter Deck and Hangar for 2-3 Helicopters.
In short, these big breakers, larger than the planned German ship, could potentially carry a light company-sized landing force with a couple of helicopters.
Currently, the USCG’s cutters just carry a small arms locker with the capability to mount a couple of M2 .50-cals if absolutely needed. The penguins and polar bears have not put up much of a fight in recent years.
That could be changing.
Changes from the design to make the Coast Guard’s new vessel capable of fighting are still being decided. However, according to the USNI, “The ship’s combat system will be derived from the Aegis Combat System, and the Coast Guard is still mulling over the weapons loadout, [USCG Adm.] Schultz told reporters on Wednesday.”
In 2017, Coast Guard Commandant Paul Zukunft said the new icebreakers would be fully weaponized to include canister launched anti-ship missiles.
“We need to look differently at what an icebreaker does… We need to reserve space, weight, and power if we need to strap a cruise missile package on it… U.S. presence in the Arctic is necessary for more than just power projection; it’s a matter of national security… If they remain unchecked, the Russians will extend their sphere of influence to over five million square miles of Arctic ice and water.”
Things could get interesting.
Seattle saw the reappearance of “Building 10,” the common designation of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star (WAGB-10), as she returned this week to her homeport after an epic 105-day deployment to Antarctica in support of Operation Deep Freeze, the 63rd year for the annual mission to supply McMurdo Station in Antarctica.
As the vessel is 43-years-young and has seen lots of hard service (she rams icebergs on purpose) things did not go as planned along the 11,200-mile sortie.
From the Coast Guard:
During the transit to Antarctica, one of the ship’s electrical systems began to smoke, causing damage to wiring in an electrical switchboard, and one of the ship’s two evaporators used to make drinkable water failed. The electrical switchboard was repaired by the crew, and the ship’s evaporator was repaired after parts were received during a port call in Wellington, New Zealand.
The impact from ice operations ruptured the cutter’s centerline shaft seal, allowing water to flood into the ship. Ice breaking operations ceased so embarked Coast Guard and Navy Divers could enter the water to apply a patch outside the hull so Polar Star’s engineers could repair the seal from inside the ship. The engineers donned dry suits and diver’s gloves to enter the 30-degree water of the still slowly flooding bilge to effect the vital repairs. They used special tools fabricated onboard to fix the leaking shaft seal and resume ice breaking operations.
The Polar Star also experienced ship-wide power outages while breaking ice in McMurdo Sound. Crew members spent nine hours shutting down the ship’s power plant and rebooting the electrical system in order to remedy the outages.
On Feb. 10, the crew spent nearly two hours extinguishing a fire in the ship’s incinerator room while the ship was approximately 650-nautical-miles north of McMurdo Sound, Antarctica. The fire damaged the incinerator and some electrical wiring in the room was damaged by fire fighting water. There were no personnel injuries or damage to equipment outside the space. Repairs to the incinerator are already scheduled for Polar Star’s upcoming inport maintenance period.
And keep in mind that for at least one pay period while underway the crew went without the eagle flying due to the lapse in appropriations.
The good news is, the Coast Guard is seeking to pick up six new polar icebreakers and the FY19 budget actually appropriated $655 million to begin construction of a new “polar security cutter” this year, with another $20 million appropriated for long-lead-time materials to build a second. So they may actually get two out of the planned six when all is said and done.
Hopefully, Polar Star can hold out till then.
Also, did I mention the Russians have 50 icebreakers?
The country’s only heavy polar icebreaker has pulled it off again..despite the flooding, engine failure, you know, the regular.
The 42-year-old 399-foot USCGC Polar Star (WAGB-10) last week finished cutting a resupply channel through 15 miles of Antarctic ice in the Ross Sea and escorting supply vessels to the frozen continent to resupply McMurdo Station at the tip of Ross Island, the epicenter of the U.S. Antarctic Program (pop. 1200).
The trip was not without drama for the elderly cutter.
From the USCG:
“Although we had less ice this year than last year, we had several engineering challenges to overcome to get to the point where we could position ourselves to moor in McMurdo,” said Capt. Michael Davanzo, the commanding officer of the Polar Star. “Our arrival was delayed due to these challenges, but the crew and I are certainly excited to be here. It’s a unique opportunity for our crewmembers to visit the most remote continent in the world, and in many respects, it makes the hard work worth it.”
On Jan. 16, Polar Star’s shaft seal failed causing flooding in the cutter’s engine room at a rate of approximately 20-gallons per minute. The crew responded quickly, using an emergency shaft seal to stop the flow of freezing, Antarctic water into the vessel. The crew was able dewater the engineering space and effect more permanent repairs to the seal to ensure the watertight integrity of the vessel. There were no injuries as a result of the malfunction.
Flooding was not the only engineering challenge the crew of Polar Star faced during their trek through the thick ice. On Jan. 11, their progress was slowed after the one of the cutter’s three main gas turbines failed. The crew uses the cutter’s main gas turbine power to breakup thick multi-year ice using its propellers. The crew was able to troubleshoot the turbine finding a programming issue between the engine and the cutter’s 1970s-era electrical system. The crew was able to continue their mission in the current ice conditions without the turbine.
“If the Polar Star were to suffer a catastrophic mechanical failure, the Nation would not be able to support heavy icebreaker missions like Operation Deep Freeze, and our Nation has no vessel capable of rescuing the crew if the icebreakers were to fail in the ice,” said Vice Adm. Fred Midgette, commander, U.S. Coast Guard Pacific Area in Alameda, California. “The crewmembers aboard Polar Star not only accomplished their mission, but they did so despite extreme weather and numerous engineering challenges. This is a testament to their dedication and devotion to duty.”
The cutter refueled at McMurdo Station Jan. 18 and continued to develop and maintain the ice channel in preparation for two resupply ships from U.S. Military Sealift Command, Ocean Giant, and Maersk Peary. The crew of Polar Star escorted the vessels to the ice pier at McMurdo Station, an evolution that requires the cutter to travel about 300 yards in front of the supply ships to ensure they safely make it through the narrow ice channel. The crew escorted the Ocean Giant to the ice pier at McMurdo Jan. 27 and conducted their final escort of the Maersk Peary to Antarctica Feb. 2. The crew escorted Maersk Peary safely out of the ice Feb. 6 after supply vessel’s crew transferred their cargo.
This just in:
The U.S. Coast Guard awarded five firm fixed-price contracts for heavy polar icebreaker design studies and analysis Wednesday. The contracts were awarded to the following recipients: Bollinger Shipyards, LLC, Lockport, Louisiana; Fincantieri Marine Group, LLC, Washington, District of Columbia; General Dynamics/National Steel and Shipbuilding Company, San Diego, California; Huntington Ingalls, Inc., Pascagoula, Mississippi; and VT Halter Marine, Inc., Pascagoula, Mississippi. The combined total value of the awards is approximately $20 million.
The objective of the studies are to identify design and systems approaches to reduce acquisition cost and production timelines. In addition to a requirement to develop heavy polar icebreaker designs with expected cost and schedule figures, the contracts require: the awardees to examine major design cost drivers; approaches to address potential acquisition, technology, and production risks; and benefits associated with different types of production contract types.
The heavy polar icebreaker integrated program office, staffed by Coast Guard and U.S. Navy personnel, will use the results of the studies to refine and validate the draft heavy polar icebreaker system specifications. The use of design studies is an acquisition best practice influenced by the Navy’s acquisition experience with the Landing Craft, Utility (LCU) amphibious transport ship and T-AO(X) fleet oiler, which are being acquired under accelerated acquisition schedules.
“These contracts will provide invaluable data and insight as we seek to meet schedule and affordability objectives,” said Rear Adm. Michael Haycock, the Coast Guard’s Director of Acquisition Programs and Program Executive Officer. “Our nation has an urgent need for heavy polar icebreaking capability. We formed an integrated program office with the Navy to take advantage of their shipbuilding experience. This puts us in the best possible position to succeed in this important endeavor,” said Haycock.
“The Navy is committed to the success of the heavy icebreaker program and is working collaboratively with our Coast Guard counterparts to develop a robust acquisition strategy that drives affordability and competition, while strengthening the industrial base,” said Jay Stefany, Executive Director, Amphibious, Auxiliary and Sealift Office, Program Executive Office, Ships. “Our ability to engage early with our industry partners will be critical to delivering this capability to our nation,” said Stefany.
The studies are expected to take 12 months to complete, with study results provided incrementally during that time. The Coast Guard plans to release a draft request for proposals (RFP) for detail design and construction by the end of fiscal year 2017, followed by release of the final RFP in fiscal year 2018. The Integrated Program Office plans to award a single contract for design and construction of the lead heavy polar icebreaker in fiscal year 2019, subject to appropriations.
For more information: Polar Icebreaker program page
Let’s face it: the U.S. Coast Guard has an icebreaker crisis that has been brewing since the 1970s. From WWII through the Ford Administration, the U.S. had the largest military ice-breaking fleet in the world. Then came the inevitable retirement of a host of 8 aging breakers, built for the Navy and armed like destroyers, which were to be replaced by four new 399-foot Polar-class ships.
Well, those four became only two as a result of 1970s budget crisis and they linger on as broken down occasionally functional vessels. Icebreakers take a beating.
Instead of building new heavy icebreakers to military spec, one Congressman wants the Coasties to buy the 12,000-ton Aiviq, an American ice-hardened anchor handling tug supply vessel owned by Edison Chouest Offshore.
Completed in 2012, the commercial vessel is pretty sweet, but in the end had trouble in Alaska trying to do its thing to the point that the cutter USCGC Alex Haley, a medium icebreaker, had to step in as a safety net.
Now, with Shell’s decision to halt Arctic oil exploration, the owners want to sell the gently used $200 million vessel to Uncle Sam for $150 million and a Republican (who has gotten some pretty big contributions from those involved with the ship) is all about it for the Coast Guard– even though the ship isn’t really an icebreaker, isn’t built to military specs, and failed in its only deployment.
“It’s my belief that the Coast Guard would benefit greatly from the initiative taken by Congress to provide funding—without drawing from existing Coast Guard priorities—to minimize the vessel gap, by leasing a medium icebreaker,” said Rep. Duncan Hunter, pimping the Aiviq.
Coast Guard Adm. Charles Michel isn’t impressed and said of the vessel, “This is not a pick-up game for the Coast Guard. We have very specific requirements for our vessels, including international law requirements for assertion of things like navigation rights. … This vessel does not just break ice …”
However, money talks, so there’s that.
Meanwhile, the Duffel Blog nails it:
Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all of their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places.- Christopher Eger
Warship Wednesday, Oct 1, Of Wind, weather wars, and space junk
With things starting to get colder, I figured we should go with an icebreaker. Here we see an amazing image of the Wind-class polar icebreaker USS Atka (AGB-3) holding the line at McMurdo Naval Station in Antarctica.
When World War II started, the Navy was up to the proverbial frozen creek as far as icebreaking went. While some foreign powers (the Soviets) really liked the specialized ships, Uncle Sam did not share the same opinion. However, this soon changed in 1941 when the U.S., even before Pearl Harbor, accepted Greenland and Iceland to their list of protected areas. Now, tasked with having to keep the Nazis out of the frozen extreme North Atlantic/Arctic and the Japanese out of the equally chilly North Pac/Arctic region (anyone heard of the Aleutians?), the Navy needed ice-capable ships yesterday.
The old (read= broken down) 6000-ton British-built Soviet icebreaker Krassin was studied in Bremerton Washington by the Navy and Coast Guard. Although dating back to the Tsar, she was still at the time the most powerful icebreaker in the world. After looking at this ship, the U.S. began work on the Wind-class, the first U.S. ships designed and built specifically as icebreakers.
Set up with an extremely thick (over an inch and a half) steel hull, these ships could endure repeated ramming against hard pack ice. Just in case the hull did break, there were 15-inches of cork behind it, followed by a second inner hull. Now that is serious business. At over 6000-tons, these ships were bulky for their short, 269-foot hulls. They were also bathtub shaped, with a 63-foot beam. For those following along at home, that’s a 1:4 length to beam ratio. Power came from a half-dozen mammoth Fairbanks-Morse 10-cylinder diesel engines that both gave the ship a lot of power on demand, but also an almost unmatched 32,000-mile range (not a misprint, that is 32-thousand). For an idea of how much that is, a Wind-class icebreaker could sail at an economical 11-knots from New York to Antarctica, and back, on the same load of diesel…twice.
To help them break the ice, the ship had a complicated system of water ballasting, capable of moving hundreds of tons of water from one side of the ship to the other in seconds, which could rock the vessel from side to side in addition to her thick hull and powerful engines. A bow-mounted propeller helped chew up loose ice and pull the ship along if needed.
With a war being on, they just weren’t about murdering ice, but being able to take the fight to polar-bound Axis ships and weather detachments as well. For this, they were given a pair of twin 5″/38 turrets, a dozen 40mm Bofors AAA guns, a half dozen 20mm Oerlikons, as well as depth charge racks and various projectors, plus the newfangled Hedgehog device to slay U-boats and His Imperial Japanese Majesty’s I-boats. Weight and space were also reserved for a catapult-launched and crane-recovered seaplane. Space for an extensive small arms locker, to equip landing parties engaged in searching remote frozen islands and fjords for radio stations and observation posts, rounded out the design.
In all, an impressive eight Wind-class ships were built. USS Atka, named appropriately enough for the largest island in the Andreanof Islands group of the Aleutian Islands of Alaska, was the third of these. Laid down at the Western Pipe and Steel Company shipyards in San Pedro, California, seven months after Pearl Harbor, she was actually commissioned as USCGC Southwind (WAG-280) in the service of the US Coast Guard on 15 July 1944. Her wartime service with the Coast Guard, though short, was memorable.
Assigned to the Greenland Patrol, she helped fight a little-known battle remembered as the Weather War. This campaign, though not very bloody, was an enduring cat and mouse game between U.S. maritime assets and those of the Germans, who set up weather stations along the remote coasts of Greenland, Canada, and Spitsbergen to get vital met data on pending fronts headed to Europe from the Arctic. Remember this was before the days of weather satellites. As such, one of the most knowledgeable oceanographers in the service, Commander Richard M. Hoyle, commanded Southwind.
While on the Greenland Patrol, Southwind, in conjunction with the USCGC Eastwind, one of her sisterships, trailed the German Naval Auxiliary ship Externsteine, an armed and converted trawler. After a short skirmish in the ice, in which Southwind illuminated the German ship with her searchlights, the trawler surrendered and was boarded by USCG landing parties. Christened the USS Eastbreeze, a salty prize crew made up of Eastbreeze and Southbreeze coasties took the captured ship in to Boston.
The Germans chased from the Arctic, and the war winding down, Southwind was decommissioned 23 March 1945, largely disarmed, and loaned to the Soviets two days later as the country was, ironically, short on modern icebreakers. She served them well under the name Kaptian Bouleve then later Admiral Makarov for almost five years, only being returned to U.S. service to be commissioned as the USS Atka (AGB-3) just in time for Korea.
As Atka, she sailed from Boston for 16 years as part of the Atlantic Fleet. During this time, she made at least three polar trips and was a frequent visitor to Thule Air Force Base, Greenland, breaking ice on the regular resupply runs there.
Then in the 1960s, the Navy decided it was getting out of the icebreaker business and transferred the Atka back to its original owners, the Coast Guard. Not one to rest on a Navy-issued name, the USCG returned to their original moniker for the ship, Southwind, when she was brought back into the fold on Halloween Day 1966. “Trick or Treat” indeed (and another reason for this to be an October Warship Wednesday!).
The “Polar Prowler,” now in her 20s with her last major refit back in 1951, continued to serve hard time in the frozen Polar Regions, as is the nature of her breed.
In the next decade, she made at least three Antarctic trips, and six Arctic ones, including a rare 1970 port-call in Murmansk, her old home while in Soviet service. While there, she picked up a NASA Apollo program unmanned training capsule (Boilerplate #-1227), that was lost at sea, found by a Hungarian trawler, then transferred to the Russians, and later collected by the Southwind.
While in Murmansk, from 4 to 7 September 1970, over 700 local citizens visited the ship. CAPT. Cassidy paid homage to Soviet and American dead at a local cemetery where American and other Allied sailors killed near Murmansk were buried. Also, the Soviets returned an Apollo training capsule (BP-1227) that they had recovered at sea. Apparently the U.S. Air Force Aerospace Rescue and Recovery personnel who were using the 9,500 pound capsule for training but lost it at sea near the Azores in February, 1969. It was recovered by a Soviet fishing trawler. Southwind, after first sustaining a “bump” by a Soviet icebreaker while departing Murmansk for home, carried the capsule back to the U.S. and deposited it at Norfolk before ending her cruise at Baltimore on 17 November 1970.
Finally, showing her age and being replaced by the new 399-foot Polar class cutters, she was decommissioned in 1974 and sold for scrap two years later. Today all that remains of her is the light that is kept burning by her veteran’s association.
In 2007, she was memorialized in an official USCG painting, “WAGB Southwind” by Thomas Carr, where she is depicted in the red-hull that she had only briefly towards the end of her career.
Her seven sister-ships have likewise all been retired and scrapped. However, her half-sister, the USCGC Mackinaw, which broke ice on the Great Lakes for six decades, is a floating museum in Michigan and her grandfather, the old now 98-year old Krassin, is preserved at Saint Petersburg.
Also, Apollo BP-1227 is on display at the Grand Rapids Public Museum, where it has been since 1976, courtesy of a cruise on the Southwind, although the capsule continues to be a subject of much discussion and conjecture in the NASA fanboy community.
Displacement: 6,515 tons (1945)
Length: 269 ft (82 m) oa
Beam: 63 ft 6 in (19.35 m) mb
Draft: 25 ft 9 in (7.85 m) max
6 × Fairbanks-Morse model 8-1/8OP, 10-cylinder opposed piston engines at 2,000 shp (1,500 kW), each driving a Westinghouse DC electric generator.
Propulsion: 2 × Westinghouse Electric DC electric motors driving the 2 aft propellers, 1 × 3,000 shp (2,200 kW) Westinghouse DC electric motor driving the detachable and seldom-used bow propeller.
Speed: Top speed: 13.4 knots (24.8 km/h) (1967)
Economic speed: 11.6 knots (21.5 km/h)
Range: 32,485 nautical miles (60,162 km)
21 officers, 295 men (1944)
12 officers, 2 warrants, 205 men (1965 USN service)
13 officers, 2 warrants, 160 men (Post-1967 USCG service)
Sensors and processing systems:
SA-2, SL-1 (1944, removed 1949)
SPS-10B; SPS-53A; SPS-6C (1967)
Sonar: QCJ-8 (1944-45)
Armament: 4 × 5″/38 (twin mounts)
12 × 40mm/60 (3 quad mounts)
6 × 20mm/80 (single mounts)
2 × depth charge tracks
6 × “K” guns
M2 Browning machine guns and small arms (1944)
Aircraft carried: 1 Grumman J2F Seaplane, later helicopters in telescoping hangar
(1945-49, Russian Service)
4x 3″/30 single mounts (U.S. Army surplus),
8x 40mm/60 (2 quad mounts)
6 × 20mm/80 (single mounts)
2 × depth charge tracks
1 x5″/38 single mount
20mm Mk 16 cannons (singles)
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The small town of Nome Alaska is at the mercy of severe winter. Apparently it was avoidable. They are out of gas and the nearest station is more than 700-miles away. With no roads connecting it to the interior, air resupply impractical, and the ocean frozen solid since October, its time to call in the icebreakers
I mean icebreaker…..We only have one and its been deployed around the world for the past eight months. In fact, it should be in the yard right now getting repaired to go to Antarctica in March….but we cant spare it.
Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
The Russian tanker Renda in the frozen Bering Sea.
Benjamin Nocerini/U.S. Coast Guard, via Associated Press
The Russian tanker Renda is slogging through ice behind the Healy, a Coast Guard icebreaker.
Parents still read books to their children about what happened next: Balto, Togo, Fritz and dozens more sled dogs sprinted through subzero temperatures across 674 miles of sea ice and tundra in what became known as the Great Race of Mercy. The medicine made it, Nome was saved and the Siberian huskies became American heroes.
Eighty-seven years later, Nome is again locked in a dark and frigid winter — a record cold spell has pushed temperatures to minus 40 degrees, cracked hotel pipes and even reduced turnout at the Mighty Musk Oxen’s pickup hockey games. And now another historic rescue effort is under way across the frozen sea.
Yet while the dogs needed only five and a half days, Renda the Russian tanker has been en route for nearly a month — and it is unclear whether she will ever arrive. The tanker is slogging through sea ice behind a Coast Guard icebreaker, trying to bring not medicine but another commodity increasingly precious in remote parts of Alaska: fuel, 1.3 million gallons of emergency gasoline and diesel to heat snow-cloaked homes and power the growing number of trucks, sport utility vehicles and snow machines that have long since replaced dogsleds.
For the moment, this latest tale appears less likely to produce a warm children’s book than an embarrassing memo, and maybe a few lawsuits, about how it all could have been avoided.
“People need to get fired over this,” said David Tunley, one of the few Musk Oxen at the outdoor rink on an evening when the temperature was minus 23. “The litigation of whose fault it is will probably go on forever.”
How Nome ended up short on fuel this winter is a complicated issue unto itself, but trying to get the Renda here to help has become a sub-Arctic odyssey — and perhaps a clunky practice run for a future in which climate change and commercial interests make shipping through Arctic routes more common.
“There is a lot of good knowledge that is coming out of this,” said Rear Adm. Thomas P. Ostebo, the officer in charge of the Coast Guard in Alaska.
Coast Guard mission to Nome exposes U.S. limits in ice-breaking capability
In what may be the furthest thing from a pleasure cruise, the U.S. Coast Guard’s only operating Arctic icebreaker is escorting a Russian-flagged tanker this week on an emergency fuel run to the ice-blocked town of Nome, Alaska.
The mission: Deliver 1.1 million gallons of diesel fuel and 300,000 gallons of gasoline to Nome (population 3,598), where storms prevented a fuel shipment in the fall.
Midweek, the two ships left Dutch Harbor, in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands. Friday, the ships are expected to encounter the ice, and USCG Cutter Healy will take the lead, plowing a 300-mile-long path for the Russian-flagged tanker Renda.
During World War 2, the US Navy and Coast Guard fought what is known as “The Weather War” in which small ice-strengthened US ships searched for German Weather installations in Greenland, Iceland, Canada, and other frozen points above the Arctic Circle. On the opposite side of the world the same types of ships were needed to patrol the northern pacific to maintain defense over Alaska. Most Americans forget (if they ever knew) that the Alaskan islands of Attu and Kiska were invaded by the Japanese military in 1942 and retained for almost two years. After WWII, the US military found itself still very much in need of an arctic and Antarctic presence, now that the USSR was only a skip and a jump away over the North Pole.
Today, with the Northwest Passage increasingly viable and fuel resources in the Arctic more approachable, the need is still as strong as ever to have a robust Polar capability for the US Military.
The missions of U.S. polar icebreakers are as follows:
- Conducting and supporting scientific research in the Arctic and Antarctic.
- Defending U.S. sovereignty in the Arctic by helping to maintain a presence in the region.
- Defending other U.S. interests in Polar Regions, including economic interests relating to the U.S. exclusive economic zone (EEZ) north of Alaska.
- Monitoring sea traffic in the Arctic, including ships bound for the United States.
- Conducting other typical Coast Guard missions (search and rescue, law enforcement, etc) in Arctic waters, including U.S. territorial waters north of Alaska.
The height of the US seagoing icebreaker fleet was 1955-1972. In that golden age the US Navy and the USCG combined maintained 8 heavily armed large icebreakers and 40 ships that could be classified as medium icebreakers. This included:
- 1×309 foot heavy icebreaker (Glacier) that could break upto 20-feet of sea ice, armed with 5″ guns and capable of carrying two helicopters.
- 7×269-foot heavy (Wind-class) icebreakers that could break upto 13-feet of sea ice, armed with 5″ guns and capable of carrying a helicopter.
- 1x 230-foot medium icebreaker (Storis) that could break up to 6-feet of sea ice, armed with 3-inch guns.
- 39x 180-foot (Balsam Class) buoy tenders with icebreaking bows that could break up to 3-feet of sea ice, armed with a 3-inch gun.
- Also on the drawing board were as many as 4 mega 399-foot Polar Class heavy Icebreakers and a dozen 140-foot icebreaking tugs, projected for delivery as beginning as early as 1976.
By 1989 the USCG-only (the USN got out of the icebreaking biz in 1966) seagoing icebreaking fleet had largely been disarmed and had shrunk to :
- 2×399-foot, 13,000-ton Polar class icebreakers. These ships were commissioned in 1976 and 1978, painted red, and armed with two 12.7mm machineguns, small arms. They are capable of breaking up to 21-feet of sea ice and carrying two helicopters.
- 31x remaining 180-foot aging Balsam class buoy tenders, most of which had been disarmed and delisted as being capable of icebreaking.
- 9x 140-foot Bay Class icebreaking tugboats, armed with two 12.7mm machineguns and capable of breaking up to 3-feet of freshwater ice. These craft are all used on the US East Coast and Great Lakes to keep local waterways open and are therefore unavailable for polar operations.
- (the 230-foot WWII-era medium icebreaker, Storis, had been retasked as a white-hulled cutter and was no longer used as an icebreaker)
Today, 2012 the USCG is in a pickle barrel full of ice. The 2011 USCG The “High Latitude Region Mission Analysis,”–a summary of which the Coast Guard’s current and future polar missions, stated that the USCG will need at least 3 heavy and 3 medium icebreakers to fulfill its requirements. Today it currently has…one of the above (a medium).
The current (Jan 2012) fleet consists of:
- The 13-year old 420-foot, 16,000-ton USCGC Healy. Commissioned in 1999, the ultra-modern red-hulled beast only has 30,000 shp maximum thrust to her shafts, whereas the smaller Polar-class icebreakers had a maximum of 75,000-shp. This means the largest US icebreaker ever commissioned can only break 4.5 feet of sea ice continuously at three knots, classifying her as a medium icebreaker. In 2011, the ship performed a seven-month science cruise in the Arctic Ocean conducting scientific operations. Due to the other large U.S. icebreakers, being either in repair (Polar Star) or in the process of being decommissioned (Polar Sea), the Healy is the only active large icebreaker in the Coast Guard’s fleet. Under the current arrangement, NSF is responsible for funding the Healy’s operations and maintenance while the Coast Guard is responsible for operating the ship and carrying out its maintenance program. Total Healy costs are approximately $24 million annually, or about $130,000 per each of the 185 days she at sea. As a research ship, she is largely unarmed with the exception of the ship’s small arms locker.
- The two 399-foot Polar Star-class heavy icebreakers have been used hard and put up wet. At some 30+ years old, they are well past their prime and due for a replacement that never came. Known as “Buildings 10 and 11” due to the fact that they rarely move from their docks, both ships have been mission in-capable for several years although they are still on the USCG list as active ships. Since April 2010, neither has been deployable and will continue to be in such condition for the next few years.
WAGB-10, the Polar Star on June 30, 2006, Polar Star was placed in a “Commission-Special” status in Seattle, WA with a reduced 34-man crew. The Coast Guard plans to reactivate her by 2013 after a $6-million refit, at which point she will 37-years old. As it stands today, she has not deployed in 7-years. It is expected that she will be deployable again in 2013 after refit.
WAGB-11, the Polar Sea, is suffering from severe engine issues that could cost in excess of $400-million to refit the ship. On June 25, 2010, the Coast Guard announced that Polar Sea had suffered an unexpected engine casualty and consequently will likely be unavailable for operation. The report said, “…inspections of the Polar Sea’s main diesel engines revealed excessive wear in 33 cylinder assemblies.” Moreover, that, “…five of [the ship’s] six mighty engines are stilled, some with worn pistons essentially welded to their sleeves.” Unmoving since April 2010, it has been used for parts to assist the Polar Star in her rebuild and is slated for decommissioning. The most recent USCG report on her is concerning whether she should be awarded National Historic Places statuses upon her decommission.
On March 25, 2008, the Navy Times described options for the refit or replacement of the Polar Star-class vessels. The four options laid out were either:
- Replacement at $925 million each
- Full refit at $400 million each that would make the vessel good for another 25 years.
- Minor refit $56 million each that would make the vessel good for another seven to ten years.
- One season refit at $8 million that would enable the ship to be patched together for one more season’s deployment.
A Nov. 3, 2011 Congressional Research Service report estimates a new polar-class sized icebreaker would require 8 to 10 years before entering service. If requested in FY 2012, it is unlikely that a new heavy icebreaker will join the fleet before 2022.
The Coast Guard’s own proposed FY2011 budget does not request any funding in the service’s Acquisition, Construction, and Improvements (AC&I) account for polar icebreaker sustainment or for acquisition of new polar icebreakers.
The Rest of the World’s Polar Fleet Countries with interests in the Polar Regions have differing requirements for polar icebreakers, depending on the nature and extent of their polar activities. According to one source, as of January 2009, Russia had a fleet of 25 polar icebreakers (including six active heavy icebreakers, two heavy icebreakers in caretaker status, 15 other icebreakers, and two additional icebreakers leased from the Netherlands. 7 of these ships are nuclear powered); Finland and Sweden each had seven heavy polar icebreakers; and Canada had 6.
The NSF and leased scientific ships.
Supporting National Science Foundation (NSF) research activities in the Arctic and Antarctic has accounted in the past for a significant portion of U.S. polar icebreaker operations. Supporting NSF research in the Antarctic has included performing—or, in more recent years, standing ready to assist in—an annual mission, called Operation Deep Freeze, to break through the Antarctic ice so as to resupply McMurdo Station, the large U.S. Antarctic research station located on the shore of McMurdo Sound, near the Ross Ice Shelf. The NSF pays for most USCG icebreaking efforts.
Even with the USCG assets, the U.S. Antarctic Program Palmer Station resupply depends primarily on two privately owned vessels, the Laurence M. Gould (LMG) and the Nathaniel B. Palmer (NBP). Both were designed and built based on input from the science community. As leased vessels, the NSF gets a great deal of bang for the buck. Annual costs for the NPB and LMG in 2007 were $16.3M and $7.5M, respectively, resulting in respective day costs of $54.3K and $23.4K for these ships, or less than half what the NSF spends on the Healy.
The NBP is an ABS A2 icebreaker capable of breaking 3 feet of level ice continuously at 3 knots, with 13,000 shaft horsepower and a displacement of 6,800 long tons. It is outfitted with all of the winches and A-frames necessary for deploying and retrieving oceanographic instrumentation. The vessel is outfitted with on-board oceanographic instrumentation and a networked computer suite, including multi-beam sonar, and has 5,900 ft2 of lab space and 4,076 ft2 of open deck space for oceanographic work and staging and a helicopter pad and hanger. The NBP averages 300 days a year underway in support of science.
The LMG was is smaller than the NBP and has less ice breaking capability, as it was designed to operate in the more benign ice regions surrounding the Antarctic Peninsula. The ship is an ABS A1 ice-strengthened vessel with 4,600 shaft horsepower and a displacement of 3,400 long tons and can break one foot of level ice at a continuous 3 knots. It is fully instrumented with on-board oceanographic instruments and a networked computer suite. The LMG has the dual purpose of supporting oceanographic science and providing re-supply to Palmer Station, located on the Antarctic Peninsula. The LMG averages 320 days a year underway in support of scientific research and associated logistics.
In FY 2005 and FY 2006 the NSF chartered the Russian government-owned, contractor operated, icebreaker Krasin as no the USCG fleet was unable to meet commitments. In FY 2007 and FY 2008, they chartered the Swedish government-owned, contractor operated, icebreaker Oden at $7.5 million per year, as the icebreakers that the USCG was provided $54-million by the NSF were insufficient. Furthermore, NOAA charters the Russian flagged R/V Yuzhmorgeologiya approximately 100 sea days per year in support of its Antarctic program.
In addition, there were a number of smaller platforms that were marginally Polar-capable. The 39 180-foot long Balsam-class buoy tenders were built with a notched forefoot, ice-belt at waterline, reinforced bow, and stern. Capable of clearing through up to 20-inches of sea ice at a steady pace, the 180s could break through harbors and light pack ice.
In 1957, two of these 180-footers, Bramble and Spar with their larger half-sister the 230-foot Storis, circumnavigated the North American continent through hundreds of miles of sea ice. The Coast Guard convoy, known as Task Force 5, sailed to 4500-miles from Seattle to Point Barrow Alaska, then through the Northwest Passage to the East Coast. The three cutters were the first U.S. vessels to complete a circumnavigation of the continent, icebreaking all the way. With a combined crew of more than two hundred and carrying no less than four dual-purpose 3-inch naval guns as well as several 20mm cannons, this was a fairly well armed force for 1957.
In the past two decades, the 230-foot medium icebreaking cutter Storis and all 39 of the180-foot tenders, joined the six ice strengthened 165-foot ice-strengthened cutters, and the 216-foot long Northland, in retirement.
Minor icebreaking is now the realm of the 19 new 225-foot Juniper class buoy tenders. The 225’s have a limited ice breaking capability of 14-inches of freshwater ice at 3 knots, or 3 feet of ice backing and ramming. However, this figure is for Great Lakes use and is of very little use in polar ice. The 14 Keeper-class of 175-foot tenders can break 9-inches of freshwater ice at 3-knots and 18 inches by ramming. This is less than the 180-foot Balsam class buoy tenders that they replaced. Nine excellent 140-foot Bay class tugs have been introduced that can break fresh water ice up to 20 inches (51 cm) thick, and break ice up to 3 feet by ramming, but even this is still slightly less than the 180s.
Therefore, in terms of medium icebreaking the 1950s USCG had 47 vessels that could break up to 20-inches of sea ice that have now been replaced by 39 that can break a lesser amount of freshwater ice. These 39 assets are needed vitally along the East Coast and Great Lakes to the extent that it is unlikely that anything other than an occasionally detached 225-foot buoy tender could be detailed to Polar Region operations. Moreover, these craft are armed with only token crew served low-angle gun mounts, leaving them incapable of projecting sovereignty in any but the most benign of environments.
The Northwest Passage
Legions of explorers looked for the Northwest Passage for hundreds of years, this included the ill-fated Franklin Expedition, which perished virtually to a man in the 1850s. The first man to complete the voyage was Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen in a small 70-foot long 47-ton herring boat called the Gjoa.
The Northwest Passage has been accomplished 15 times by American vessels, and U.S. Coast Guard icebreakers have been the only American surface combatants to do so, carried out 11 of these voyages. In 1957 Storis, Bramble and Spar were the first of these Coast Guard cutters to make the journey through the passage, establishing a tradition that was followed by the Coast Guard cutters Northwind and Staten Island (1969), Polar Sea (1985, 1990), Polar Star (1988,1989) and Healy (2000, 2003). The other three American warships to transit fully the Northwest Passage were the submerged nuclear powered submarines USS Nautilus (1958), USS Queenfish (1970) and USS Seadragon (1958). The US-flagged tanker M/V Manhattan was the first commercial vessel to make a full transit (in 1969).
The Northwest Passage is now wide open in some parts during the summer. In 2006, the Hapag-Lloyd cruise ship M/S Bremen sailed through it with passengers. The Bremen, built in 1990, is 6.752 gross tons carries 164 passengers and 100 crewmembers in its non-ice reinforced hull. No less than four privately owned US-flagged yachts have completed the passage in a single season since 1984, showing the feasibility of passing through.
On April 9, 2006, Canada’s Joint Task Force North declared that the Canadian military would no longer refer to the region as the Northwest Passage, but as the Canadian Internal Waters. The declaration came after the successful completion of Operation Nunalivut (Inuktitut for “the land is ours”), which was an expedition into the region by five military patrols.
With no US icebreakers to prove otherwise, it looks like Canada is right.
A look at the Legacy fleet of USN/USCG Icebreakers, from the 1944-1989 Glory days or armed, destroyer-sized, capable, heavy cutters.
USS Glacier (AGB-4) 1955-1966 /USCGC Glacier (WAGB-4) 1966-1987
Displacement: 8,449 long tons (8,585 t) full load
Length: 309 ft. 6 in (94.34 m)
Complement: 14 officers, 2 warrant officers, 225 enlisted
Armament: • 1 × twin 5 in (130 mm) guns (removed in 1966 when sent to USCG)
• 3 × twin 3 in (76 mm) guns
• 4 × 20 mm guns
Aircraft carried 2 helicopters. Air detachment: 14 officers and 10 enlisted.
Glacier was capable of breaking ice up to 20 feet (6.1 m) thick, and of continuous breaking of 4-foot (1.2 m) thick ice at 3 knots (5.6 km/h; 3.5 mph). Following 29 Antarctic and 10 Arctic deployments, Glacier was decommissioned in 1987
Seven Wind-class Heavy Icebreakers built for the US Navy and US Coast Guard
Displacement: 6,500 short tons (5,900 metric tons) full load
Length: 269 ft (82 m)
Complement: 219 officers and men
Armament: Four 5-inch/38 (127 mm) dual-purpose guns (2 twin turrets). Twelve 40 mm/60 AA guns (3 quadruple turrets). Six 20 mm/80 AA; Y-guns. Two depth charge racks. One Hedgehog (weapon) launcher. M2 Browning machine guns and small arms. Reduced to just the M2s and small arms by 1970. Originally carried a 1 Grumman J2F Duck seaplane, replaced by helicopter in 1960s. Capable of breaking 13-foot sea ice.
USCGC Staten Island (WAGB-278), Commissioned 1944. Decommissioned 15 November 1974 and scrapped.
USCGC Eastwind (WAGB-279) Commissioned 1944. Decommissioned in 1968, sold in 1972 and scrapped.
USCGC Southwind (WAGB-280) Commissioned 1944. Decommissioned 1974, sold for scrap 1976.
USS Westwind (AGB-6) renamed USCGC Westwind (WAGB-281) in USCG service. Commissioned into USN in 1944Transferred to USCG 1951. Decommissioned 29 February 1988, sold and scrapped.
USCGC Northwind (WAGB-282). Commissioned 1945. Decommissioned 1989 and scrapped.
USS Burton Island (AGB-88) Commissioned into USN in 1947. Transferred to USCG 1966, renamed USCGC Burton Island (WAGB-283) in USCG service. Decommissioned 1978, sold for scrap 1980.
USS Edisto (AGB-89) Commissioned into USN in 1947. Transferred to USCG 1966 and renamed USCGC Edisto (WAGB-284) in USCG service. Decommissioned 1977 and scrapped 1980.
So with Global Warming, why in the world are icebreakers needed?
Well, its because now the Northwest Passage may be open, and oil deposits previously thought incapable of reaching, may be….
And there you have it.
After World War Two the US Navy got out of the icebreaker biz and gave its ships to the USCG. With the tightest budget of any service, the Coasties have three icebreakers, one is 12 years old and small, and the other two are broken. Pretty badly broken, as in UN-repairable.
This is where it goes from bad to worse…..
There may be no money to pull this off, but the GAO suggests that the USCG may need as many as six new heavy icebreakers as soon as yesterday…..
The summary of the report:
The gradual retreat of polar sea ice, combined with an expected increase in human activity–shipping traffic, oil and gas exploration, and tourism in the Arctic region–has increased the strategic interest that the United States and other nations have in the Arctic. As a result, the U.S. Coast Guard, within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), has responsibilities in the Arctic, which are expected to increase. This testimony provides an update of: (1) the extent to which the Coast Guard has taken actions to identify requirements for future Arctic operations; (2) issues related to the U.S. icebreaking fleet; and (3) the extent to which the Coast Guard is coordinating with stakeholders on Arctic issues. This statement is based on GAO-10-870, issued in September 2010, and includes selected updates. For the selected updates, GAO analyzed Coast Guard, Department of Defense (DOD,) and other related documents on Arctic operations and capabilities. GAO also interviewed Coast Guard and DOD officials about efforts to identify Arctic requirements and coordinate with stakeholders.
The Coast Guard has taken a variety of actions–from routine operations to a major analysis of mission needs in the polar regions–to identify its Arctic requirements. The routine operations have helped the Coast Guard to collect useful information on the capability of its existing assets to operate in cold climates and strategies for overcoming logistical challenges presented by long-distance responses to incidents, among other things. Other operational actions intended to help identify Arctic requirements include the establishment of temporary, seasonal operating locations in the Arctic and seasonal biweekly Arctic overflights, which have helped the Coast Guard to identify performance requirements and test personnel and equipment capabilities in the Arctic. The Coast Guard’s primary analytical effort to identify Arctic requirements is the High Latitude Study, a multivolume analysis that is intended to, in part, identify the Coast Guard’s current Arctic capability gaps and assess the degree to which these gaps will impact future missions. This study also identifies potential solutions to these gaps and compares six different options–identified as Arctic force mixes–to a baseline representing the Coast Guard’s current Arctic assets. However, given current budget uncertainty and the Coast Guard’s recent acquisition priorities, it may be a significant challenge for the agency to acquire the assets that the High Latitude Study recommends. The most significant issue facing the Coast Guard’s icebreaker fleet is the growing obsolescence of these vessels and the resulting capability gap caused by their increasingly limited operations. In 2010, Coast Guard officials reported challenges fulfilling the agency’s statutory icebreaking mission. Since then, at least three reports–by the DHS Inspector General and Coast Guard contractors–have further identified the Coast Guard’s challenges to meeting its current and future icebreaking mission requirements in the Arctic with its existing polar icebreaker fleet. Prior GAO work and these reports also identify budgetary challenges the agency faces in acquiring new icebreakers. Given these issues and the current budgetary climate, it is unlikely that the Coast Guard will be able to fund the acquisition of new icebreakers through its own budget, or through alternative financing options. Thus, it is unlikely that the Coast Guard will be able to expand the U.S. icebreaker fleet to meet its statutory requirements, and it may be a significant challenge for it to just maintain its existing level of icebreaking capabilities due to its aging fleet. In 2010, GAO reported the Coast Guard coordinates with various stakeholders on Arctic operations and policy, including foreign, state, and local governments, Alaskan Native governments and interest groups, and the private sector. GAO also reported that the Coast Guard coordinates with federal agencies, such as the National Science Foundation, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and DOD. More recently, the Coast Guard has partnered with DOD through the Capabilities Assessment Working Group–an interagency coordination group established in May 2011–to identify shared Arctic capability gaps as well as opportunities and approaches to overcome them, to include making recommendations for near-term investments. The establishment of this group helps to ensure collaboration between the Coast Guard and DOD addresses near-term capabilities in support of current planning and operations. GAO is not making new recommendations in this statement. GAO previously recommended that the Coast Guard communicate with key stakeholders on the process and progress of its Arctic planning efforts. DHS concurred with this recommendation and is in the process of taking corrective action